Literacy backpacks

Fountain for youth, with the support of Northern Territory schools and teachers, is helping introduce Literacy Backpacks to promote reading by Aboriginal children and their families.

The Backpack idea, pioneered in the Navajo communities of the USA, has been tried successfully in three Catholic Schools in the Kimberley region of Western Australia as a way of helping parents become positive role models to stimulate their children’s interest in reading.

With the support of Federal Education funding, public and corporate support we began delivering Literacy backpacks to school children and their families in the latter part of 2005, beginning with 370 children and their families in Wugularr, Manyallaluk, Barunga and Minyerri, all small remote Jawoyn communities in southern Arnhem Land.
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Over the past 12 months FFY has expanded the Literacy Backpack Project to a further 215 children in three more communities in the region; Bulman, Jilkminggan and Urapunga. Stuart Dwyer, the Group Schools Principal for the East and West Region of Katherine has seen such positive results with the backpack project and wishes to introduce it to the seven communities of the west region over the coming years, starting with Yarralin with 84 students at the beginning of Term 3, 2007. Stuart has been successful in appointing, through the NT Department of Education, a Project Officer to support the teachers in both the east and west schools grow the program.

At the beginning of 2007 Fountain for youth took the project to two new communities beyond the Jawoyn region; Bidyadanga, a coastal community 180kms south west of Broome is one of the largest Indigenous communities in Western Australia. The La Grange Remote Community School is delivering the Backpacks to 130 students and their family members. Maningrida another large Indigenous community on the coast in the far north east of the Northern Territory is ready to introduce the Backpack project at their school, reaching another 200 students.

Our goal is to deliver the Backpack project to as many as 1,300 children in the remote communities to the east and west of Katherine and beyond.

Surveys were conducted within the communities before the backpack project began. The results emphasised the urgency and need to deliver the right reading materials into the hands of the children and the family members. Results indicated near bookless homes with the highest percentages registering 0-3 pieces of reading material found in the home, in some communities illiteracy rates are as high as 93%.


Families are asked what reading materials they would like to receive on a regular basis. Teachers order books and educational resource materials suited to the students reading levels that will assist in developing and increasing reading skill levels. Teachers, students and parents pack the Literacy Backpacks with reading material of interest to all members of the family, including books, a variety of magazines and Indigenous newspapers, and occasionally audio books and videos of school texts. Read further [Progress Report December 2006]Fountain for youth invites members of the public and corporations to sponsor a child’s Literacy Backpack.$100 can fill a Literacy backpack with suitable books for student and family.